Labels can kill!
In fact, labels should carry a health warning!
Having just launched my new ‘retreat’ business, I struggle to find a useful marketing strategy that allows it to tell me what it wants to become. So when marketing friends ask me to be more specific, I can’t, because I am waiting to be surprised. They, and my protesting internal bank manager will just have to live with it!
I feel a growing reluctance to constrict the creative flow by labelling it as ‘this’ or ‘that’. We live in a world of labels. A world of contradictions and dualities, of things being one way, or the other.
It is a left-brained world where we stagger under the weight of naming the lives we are living, so we, and others, can feel safe.
And yet, if there is anything we know for sure, it is that the shape of things always changes and that the real dance of life is to adjust and adapt, not to constrict and obstruct.
And right there, in the first paragraph, I fall into my own trap. I call it a left brain world, when in fact, from a neurological point of view, right/left brain talk is reductive. From a colloquial point of view, however, it is shorthand for logical left brain analytical thinking, and creative, receptive, unstructured right brain thinking. Planning versus allowing.
We start naming our environment from a very early age: That nice smelling blob where I get nourished resonates inside me as an ‘ummy sound, and that sweeping feeling in my tummy as I fly through the air is linked to an ‘addy.
Or visa versa of course!
Labels give us a sense of place, and a sense of meaning. And they are useful when we need to communicate with others, about place, or meaning, or direction. And sometimes we subtly adjust labels in a gentle evasion to shield us from the harsh truth. I preferred to call myself a freelance journalist, rather than an out of work, rookie journalist, not quite sure of her direction! But perhaps if I’d embraced the latter, I might have found my true calling in life sooner, and felt less of a fraud as I tried to join in with the grown up game of ‘being a someone, by being a something’.
So while labels can be a useful means for communicating our intentions and our goals, they can also choke the life out of you when we use them to define who we are, rather than what we might happen to be doing, for now…
Here comes the elephant
Five blind people are exploring an elephant. Each one describes the elephant to the others: A long skinny rope like creature, says the one standing by the tail. No, says the other, it’s a big soft flappy creature that might fly, gently stroking the elephant’s ear. Don’t be ridiculous, says the third, holding on to a leg; this animal is built to be rooted into the earth like the trunk of a tree.
And so it goes on. Same elephant, different labels. Same divine flow, different gods. Same quest, but a myriad of paths. And instead of saying: how interesting, share your different perspective some more, we usually become defensive and fight with each other to prove we are right.
And thus labels can cost lives, because labels lead to dogma, which leads to war. Regardless of whether these are wars fought with guns, or inner wars that pit creativity against dogma, and tear you up from the inside.
Today the river outside my window is flowing backwards. It does that sometimes when the water in the nearby lake is extremely high. Sometimes our life energy seems to flow backwards too, or doubles up on itself, or loops around an obstacle. Like the elephant, we may differ in the way we label and name the flow, God, Life, Evolution, DNA, but most people would agree that the flow itself exists.
Take one breath away from the rat race and you can sense it deep inside. If not, try this exercise. The way you label anything is only ever for that particular moment. The only constant is change, because all forms, including people, are created to become redundant and die. if we can find ways of being useful before that happens, then great! But no amount of ‘playing it by the book’ will make you immortal.
Does that make you shudder? Well yes, it would, because it’s the ultimate reason why we cling to our labels, or to the rule book, instead of flying by the seat of our pants and making it up as we go along!
People don’t like change, because they equate change with death, and most of us don’t want to go there. Literally or metaphorically.
So labels give us a path and a (false) sense of security, and we stick a cool name on it so others believe the myth too. And then we conflate our being with our doing, leaving no more room for the creative and chaotic input of the imagination. No room for life’s natural eb and flow, the chance that your river may want to flow backwards from time to time.
And that’s the rub. Maybe we’re not here to know anything for sure. Maybe we’re not even here to find out. Maybe it is just our longing to know that keeps us pushing the boundaries of the known, the accepted, and the labelled. Take Copernicus, Einstein, and Stephen Hawking. Some were outcasts in their day, and others, like Hawking, have become heroes.
Hawking balanced labels with creative insecurity and unknowing. Maybe because he understood like no other, how restricting the identification with a label might be. Not the Motor Neurone disease sufferer, but a scientist who also happened to have MND. I think he found the delicate balance between knowing ‘for now’, and so labelling ‘for now’, leaving space for the energy of life to turn each theory upside down and reveal new wonderful creepy crawlies under the stone.
So when I want to answer I don’t know to questions about my new business enterprise, it is not from a place of rebellion, but because I don’t want to lock its creative potential down into a version of the truth that may hold it back. Ask any geneticist, and they will tell you that your DNA packet is only a bundle of potentials, not deterministic truths. Or ask an astrologer to do a chart, and they too will tell you that this is not your future set in stone, but a blueprint of your potential. It is only the starting point, not the road itself. The map is never the territory.
Labels are a useful tool, but they are not the truth!
We are free flowing creative evolutionary miracles that need nothing more than sniff the air and notice which way the river flows that day. And yes, once we have sniffed the air, we can decide what bread needs putting on the table that day, and which bridges need building to keep Lysanne’s feet dry in this great river delta.
So I invite you into this non-labelling experiment. Next time you hear yourself labelling, your work, your projects, or fellow human beings, stop, and ask yourself if you are not prematurely narrowing down their life force into something that is perhaps a safe, but eventually choking life jacket? Be open and receptive, not constricting and obstructive.
And there’s my own task, right here, right now. To find a way to market a new service that shares the joy of being on my houseboat with others, while leaving open a creative space to let the riverside studio find its own definition, moment by moment, person by person.
And so ‘I don’t know’ becomes my friend. Because we don’t. We don’t know a thing!
And isn’t that in fact a deeply liberating joy?